This story was updated to add comment from President Obama.
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson will be stepping down after President Obama’s State of the Union address in January.
Jackson, the first black head of the EPA and the fourth woman to hold the job, has spent much of her tenure at the center of the energy and environment debate in Washington and was often criticized for the agency’s controversial Clean Air Act regulations.
President Obama on Thursday thanked Jackson for her four years of service. "Under her leadership, the EPA has taken sensible and important steps to protect the air we breathe and the water we drink," he said.
The EPA during Jackson's tenure has undertaken several significant regulatory actions, including setting new standards to clean up mercury and other toxic emissions from coal power plants, establishing new fuel economy and greenhouse gas standards for motor vehicles and setting new standards to limit fine particle soot in the air.
The EPA also reversed course from the Bush administration's policies and declared that climate change posed a real threat to the environment.
Critics have accused the EPA of overreach and of putting in place “job-killing” regulations at a time of economic weakness. In the last year, Jackson and her colleagues have been grilled by congressional committees on the agency’s environmental rules and their effects on energy industries and economic recovery. The GOP-led House has passed laws trying to block or delay EPA regulations.
Jackson, 50, was born in Pennsylvania, but grew up in New Orleans. She spent 16 years at the EPA and six years at the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection prior to becoming EPA administrator.